Gov. Brad Little gave an upbeat portrayal of the business climate in Idaho on Aug. 17 at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual governor’s address to the business community. Most of the talk concentrated on what the governor called his “trifecta: record investment in education, record investment in transportation and record tax relief.”
He did touch on other subjects as well, including how Idaho fared through the COVID-19 pandemic: “We recovered jobs faster than any other state in the nation.”
Little did wax a bit on the subject of the state government’s regular rule-cutting diet regime and how that keeps the state friendly by not overburdening small business. He outlined his recipe for how the state deals with cutting down on unnecessary rules and regulation. He pointed out what a critical role the heads of the state agencies play in regularly vetting any state regulation: “I will tell you a little secret about (trimming regulations): If you don’t build it into the DNA of your agency leaders, it’s hard to do…for every rule that comes up, we look at it (and ask), ‘Why do we need this? Why should we keep this?'”
Little outlined other achievements by the state to make and keep Idaho a good place to do business. The recently announced projected Idaho state government surplus of $2 billion did not escape mention, though he made no mention of a potential special session of the Legislature to discuss the disposition of that surplus.
Little touted tax relief and tax rates for individuals and business: “We provided over a billion dollars in tax relief and we continue to lower the rates to make us more competitive (with other states). These rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1936.” He mentioned that Idaho has neighboring states, some of which have no income tax and some of which have no sales tax and that the state remains vigilant to keeps its own rates competitive with its neighbors.
He brought up the 2021 move to not increase the amount that businesses need to pay into the unemployment insurance fund: “We worked with the Legislature and offered $64 million of relief…We’ve got the most solvent unemployment fund of all the states.”
One of Gov. Little’s priorities in office has been to improve the state’s public education system, especially early literacy programs. When he remarked that “We have increased the money that we put into early literacy to about $47 million in this year,” many of the several hundred attendees broke into spontaneous applause.
Little did not shy away from the dilemma that Idaho currently has with its 700 vacancies in unfilled teacher positions throughout the state, though that is a problem the state currently shares with the rest of the country. He did state that since he came to office, Idaho has increased its education budget 40%. Starting salaries for teachers have been raised to make the state more competitive in attracting educators to work here and salaries over all have been increased to retain veteran teachers through the career ladder system.
He did address that the state fixed the disparities that existed in the health benefits offered to teachers, which varied by district. Idaho equalized the health insurance for educators throughout the state last year: “That was pretty heavy lifting (in the Legislature); that was $115 million. And we’re gonna get that back. We might have to do some fine tuning (to the budget), but it’s the right thing to do.”
Above all, Gov. Little emphasized that the most important factor in improving education and attracting quality teachers to work here was appreciation of the teaching profession: “The most important thing we can do is value our educators.”
This article was updated on Aug. 19 to update the correct amount allocated to early literacy programs.